Waffle House Shooting Trial Daily Highlights

Posted at 9:15 AM, February 5, 2022 and last updated 8:52 PM, July 18, 2023

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Court TV) — Rejecting his insanity plea, a jury found Travis Reinking guilty of all charges, including four counts of first-degree murder. In the penalty phase, the jury recommended life in prison without the possibility of parole for each murder conviction. The judge set a tentative date of May 6 for sentencing.

DAY 6 – 2/5/22

DAY 5 – 2/4/22

  • Attorney General Roger Moore delivers the state’s closing arguments
  • Paul Bruno delivers the closing arguments for the defense
  • State rebuttal by Assistant District Attorney General Ronald Dowdy
  • Jury instructions are given and the jury began deliberating at 1:00 pm ET
  • Jury has a question: What is the definition of wrongfulness? Are we to hold someone mentally ill to the same definition legally?
    • Response: Since wrongfulness is not defined by statute, you are to give it the common meaning to determine if Mr Reinking could appreciate what he was doing was wrong under the insanity defense.
  • After only approximately two hours, the jury reached their decision.
  • Reinking was found GUILTY ON ALL COUNTS
    • Count 1 – First-degree murder of Joe Perez Jr
    • Count 2 – First-degree murder of Taurean Sanderlin
    • Count 3 – First-degree murder of Akilah Dasilva
    • Count 4 – First-degree murder of De’Ebony Groves
    • Count 5 – Attempted first-degree murder of Shantia Waggoner (serious bodily harm) – 39.12.101
    • Count 6 – Possession of a weapon to commit a dangerous felony (count 5) –  39.17.1324 (B)
    • Count 7 – Attempted first-degree murder of Sharita Henderson (serious bodily harm
    • Count 8 – Possession of a weapon to commit a dangerous felony (count 7)
    • Count 9 – Attempted first-degree murder of Kayla Shaw
    • Count 10 – Possession of a weapon to commit a dangerous felony (count 9)
    • Count 11 – Attempted first-degree murder of James Shaw Jr.
    • Count 12 – Possession of a weapon to commit a dangerous felony (count 11)
    • Count 13 – Felony murder (Joe Perez while attempting to commit 1d murder) — 39.13.202(a)(2)
    • Count 14 – Felony murder (Taurean Sanderlin while attempting to commit first degree murder)
    • Count 15 – Felony murder (Akilah Dasilva while trying to commit first degree murder)
    • Count 16 – Felony murder (De’Ebony Groves while trying to commit first degree murder)
  • WATCH: 2/4/22 Waffle House Shooting Trial: Watch the Verdict
  • WATCH: 2/4/22 Waffle House Shooting Trial: Victims’ Families React to Verdict
  • The sequestered jury will return on Saturday, Feb. 5, to resume the penalty phase of the trial. The penalty phase will play out like a regular trial, with opening statements, evidence, testimony, closing arguments and deliberations. Ultimately, the jury must decide between life with or without the possibility of parole.

DAY 4 – 2/3/22

  • The defense rested after calling its second forensic psychologist, Dr. Rena Isen, who performed one of two court-ordered evaluations of Reinking in 2018.
    • Isen testified Reinking suffered from schizophrenia which manifested in delusions of persecution that led him to believe he was acting in self-defense and under god’s command when he carried out the mass shooting.
  • The defense recalled Dr. Elizabeth Wood to introduce a YouTube video that Reinking posted titled “Someone broke into my apartment,” offering a window into his delusions.
  • The state powered through seven rebuttal witnesses Thursday afternoon — or more like six, since the judge precluded Det. Sumeral from testifying about his interview with the defendant after he got on the stand.
  • Three rebuttal witnesses described Reinking’s theft of the BMW from the dealership in an effort to show the defendant was planning an escape.
  • Testimony ended on a chilling note with the introduction of drawings the defendant etched into Styrofoam lunch trays of the shooting that included racist slurs to refer to the victims.
  • WATCH: 2/3/22 Waffle House Shooting Trial: Day 4

DAY 3 – 2/2/22

  • Davidson County prosecutors rested their casein chief after calling 27 witnesses. Their last witness was Nashville Metro PD lead homicide Det. Desmond Sumereal.
    • Through Sumereal, jurors got their first look into Travis Reinking’s apartment, where investigators found two bolt-action rifles, boxes of ammunition, and a safe containing letters to Taylor Swift and Oprah Winfrey among bills, car titles and passports.
  • Against the state’s objections, Det. Desmond Sumereal read aloud the letters detailing Reinking’s delusions of a relationship with Taylor Swift. In the letter to Oprah, he beseeches her to help him understand if this relationship with Taylor Swift was real.
  • Reinking’s defense called its first witness, Dr. Elizabeth Wood, the Vanderbilt University forensic psychologist who performed a court-ordered mental health evaluation (Vanderbilt contracts services with Davidson County). She testified to her findings: Travis Reinking suffered from schizophrenia and did not appreciate the wrongfulness of his actions the night of the Waffle House shooting.
  • On cross, prosecutor Ronald Dowdy pressed Wood on whether Reinking’s behavior and things he wrote in a journal after the shooting suggested he knew what he did was wrong.
  • Judge Mark Fishburn denied the defense’s motion for judgement of acquittal.
  • In charge conference, parties debated the definition of “wrongfulness” and which lessers to include.
  • WATCH: 2/2/22 Waffle House Shooting Trial: Day 3
  • WATCH: 2/2/22 Waffle House shooter wrote to Oprah Winfrey and Taylor Swift

DAY 2 – 2/1/22

  • Kayla Shaw, the last shooting survivor to testify, narrated surveillance video of her dropping to the ground and playing dead, getting up and slipping in a pool of blood and praying over the dismembered leg of another shooting survivor as she described her experience of the shooting.
    • Kayla Shaw also testifies that she saw Reinking “running” from scene; on cross, she admits she told initially law enforcement he was “walking.”
  • Firearms examiner testified that Bushwacker semiautomatic Reinking used in the shooting did not require manual reload unlike the Remington gun he left at home.
  • A slew of police dozen witnesses took the stand and described the manhunt for Reinking and his calm, “model suspect” demeanor as he was taken into custody.
    • Police witnesses testified his behavior was uncharacteristic of their training and experience dealing with people with mental illnesses.
  • Medical examiner used diagrams to illustrate devastating gunshot injuries from defendant’s Bushmaster semiautomatic rifle; delivered cause and manner of their deaths.
  • Video of James Shaw’s police interview showed him saying Reinking did not say anything “racial” to him, despite his testimony claiming that Reinking called him a racist slur.
  • WATCH: 2/1/22 Waffle House Shooting Trial: Day 2

DAY 1 – 1/31/22

  • The jury hears opening statements:
    • Assistant District Attorney General Jan Norman said Reinking made a series of conscious decisions intended to exact maximum harm. He purchased ammunition days before the shooting and brought his most poweful firearm to the restaurant when it was sure to be busy, Norman said. He waited outside for it to fill up, unloaded 30 rounds into his pursuit of Perez and Sandelin, then moved inside and fired another 30 rounds as he hunted innocent people seeking cover.
    • Defense lawyer Luke Evans said Reinking suffered from severe schizophrenia that rendered him “untethered from reality” and operating under the delusion that people were after him. He believed he was in contact with God and aliens, and that God commanded him to kill the people in the restaurant because they were government agents who were “responsible for the torment he perceived over the years.” He also thought Taylor Swift was a government agent acting as his girlfriend who broke into his home and sexually assaulted him.
  • The state called 13 witnesses, including surviving victims Shantia Waggoner, Sharita Henderson and James Shaw Jr. Shaw described his heroic efforts to wrestle the rifle from Reinking’s hands and force him out the door. He said he overheard Reinking call him a racist slur, something he apparently never told police, defense lawyer Paul Bruno pointed out on cross.
    • Another witness, Chelsea Owens, described watching the gunman shoot Jose Perez and Taurean Sanderlin outside the restaurant before taking his rampage inside, where Owens’ friend Kayla Shaw was picking up food. Kayla Shaw was injured but managed to escape. As they drove off, they spotted Reinking running into a wooded area and called police, Owns testified.
    • Relatives of deceased victims Joe Perez, Taurean Sanderlin, Akilah Dasilva and De’Ebony Groves also took the stand to identify pictures of them and give context to the terrifying final moments of their lives. Abede Dasilva said he and his girlfriend fled in the opposite direction of his brother and his girlfriend as gunfire erupted, seeking refuge in the bathroom. He teared up as he described lying on the ground next to his brother while his brother cried out in pain, “I can’t breathe.”

Court TV field producer Emanuella Grinberg contributed to this report.